Panic is palpable across Britain as thousands of civil servants have voted to strike on 31 January.
Regulation will become Byzantine as civil servants eager to undue the regulating urges of other civil servants miss a day’s work, soft loans for exporters may be delayed, and public service advertising will remain patronising! And how will any of us survive without HM Revenue and Customs checking up on whether we have paid enough tax or imported too many cigarettes?
Of course, a few people will suffer from this; mainly poor people. Job centres and benefits offices will be closed, meaning that either people will get their benefits without having to sign on (so having no impact at all) or their benefits will be delayed (causing suffering to the most needy). It makes more sense that driving tests will be delayed, as these are exactly the sort of service that the government should be privatising, though it is ironic that while the strike is about the Public and Commercial Services Union’s opposition to privatisation, this particular service is not one of those in the frame. And the courts will be hit, but some might argue that justice is so slow that nobody will really notice.
Of the 280,000 members balloted, 61,488 voted in favour of the strike and 38,823 voting against. In a brilliant example of wilful misrepresentation, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said the size of the majority showed the anger at the way civil and public servants were being treated. Some might counter that the fact that almost two thirds could not be bothered to vote implies that the result shows the total apathy of Mr. Serwotka’s members, and that basing a strike on the opinion of barely a fifth of his membership suggests that the agenda being pursued here is Mr. Serwotka’s rather than that of his members. But that’s union politics for you.
In fact, the main impact of the PCS strike will be that for one day only thousands of civil servants will not get paid. That should save the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds. So here is a novel suggestion: rather than the citizens of the UK missing out on this non-event, why not give every taxpayer a tiny tax rebate. On 1 February, when they wake to find a couple more quid in the bank and civilisation still intact, they will really be able to judge whether they are getting value for money from their public servants.